Biosafety measures are designed to keep disease away from groups of animals or to limit the spread of a disease in an animal population. The goal of this sub-project is to find new strategies and to make animal resistant to viral infection, to strenghthen the immune response and identifying new inhibitors able to avoid the diffusion of pig retrovirus in human.

Infectious diseases, particularly those caused by viruses, have very important implications in pig farming. The high number of pigs in farms may generate conditions for easy and rapid spread of infectious agents, with serious repercussions both on the economic sector and on the animals welfare.

Furthermore, there are some diseases hazardous to public health as the viruses, which cause them, that can be transmitted to humans. Among them there are some strains of influenza virus (H1N1) that have caused outbreaks in the past few years.

A further concern arises from the possible presence of latent viruses or infections that do not manifest in animals which can be used as organs or tissue donors for the treatment of diseases in humans. There is concern that in these circumstances, some viruses, difficult to dectect and apparently non-pathogenic, as some retroviruses, could be transmitted to patients receiving the transplant causing an infection.

An attractive approach to hinder the virus replication inside infected cells is based on the process of RNA interference, in which small molecules of double-stranded RNA (siRNA or "short interfering RNA") are able to prevent the expression of genes which are complementary to them. What seemed at first a limited phenomenon observed in some invertebrates, turned out to be an important mechanism to regulate the function of genes and one of the strategies by which, in nature, organisms and viruses fight their battle.

The figure shows the process of Short Interfering RNA.

Biosafety is one of the Superpig Subproject, which aims to identify new molecules with an antivaral effect that can block the viruses in particular those that could cause zoonosis such as Hepatitis or influenza viruses but also endogenus retrovirus (PERV) to which pig organ transplant patient would be potentially exposed. With regard to zoothecnical field, viruses that can affect economically among these the PRRS. Within the project it will be identified siRNA sequences able to block the virus replication and vectors that express those sequences that can be inserted in pig genome in order to make it resitant to disease. In the first part of the project, the inibition will be tested in vitro. In vitro diagnostic methods and tests to assess infectivity of the most common viruses will be also developed and they could be also used to detect infectivity in human as well as to evaluate the immunologica response. A data bank will be also established for the identified viral variats. The study of the mechanisms of resistance and of the spread of viral diseases presents interesting prospects in various sectors. Firstly, the development of drugs and models of viral resistance to infection affects the pharmacological industry and the production of vaccines. Even though the expected impact of this activity is undertaken to ensure the safety for human health of the pigs used as donors of biological materials, interesting reflections may affect the health of the pig farms in the zootechnical field and public health in the broadest sense, if mechanisms of resistance to diseases transmissible from animals to humans (zoonoses) are determined such as cases of influenza H1N1 and swine variant of hepatitis E.

These  research areas are carried out  by researchers at the Biotechnology Research Center - Catholic University of Sacro Cuore of Cremona, IZSLER Institute for Lombardy and Emilia Romagna and the CNR (National Research Council) Institute of Molecular Genetics.

Coordinator of this sub-project:
Dr. Franco Lucchini
Biotechnology Research Centre
Catholic University of Sacro Cuore
Agricultural Faculty - Cremona
With the collaboration of IZSLER and the Istitute for Molecular Genetics of CNR (National  Reseach Council).